Sifting Through the Wine Media: A Slog With Rewards

siftingI’m regularly evaluating the value and utility of the food and wine media (all of it) as a function of my career as a wine publicist and on behalf of clients. Also, the sixth annual Wine Bloggers Conference is coming up soon in June. The Wine Blog Awards finalists will also be announced soon. Finally, I recently learned that no one reads wine blogs anymore.

So, you’ll understand why I have been recently thinking a bit more seriously about the nature of the wine information/education/reporting industry. I come to those thoughts with the following knowledge:

It is a VERY small “industry” that has exploded in size over the past ten years.

Furthermore, I’ve been wondering what the impact is of readers and wine lovers today having far better access to a much larger contingent of information outlets, the majority of which have relatively miniscule readerships? I couple this question with my own intuition that the larger the audience an information outlet has, the greater the responsibility to their readers they are likely to possess. Conversely, I think it is equally true that it is more likely that the smaller the information outlet is the less responsibility it is likely to harbor to their smaller set of readers.

Of course the primary reason an information outlet will have a greater sense of responsibility toward its readers is that it is far more likely to be generating an income off that audience that will likely not remain a revenue generating audience if the information outlet does not serve them with good, solid, reliable, truthful, and interesting information. Conversely, information outlet with a very small or tiny readership likely depends in no way on or only a very small way for revenue and this in term makes it more likely it will such a solid, reliable, truthful or interesting source of information.

What this means is that there is a much higher percentage today of unreliable, dubious, uninteresting wine information sources available to wine lovers and wine information consumers than in the past, before the explosion of outlets. It further means that the conscientious reader has to be much more ruthless today in vetting the information sources they rely on than in the past. It was a safer bet 15 years ago to pick up any old wine information source and be rewarded for trusting it out of the gate than it is today.

The wine information consumer today has a great deal more weight on their shoulders if they are concerned with consuming truthful, reliable, interesting and solid information about the world of wine. With choice, comes greater effort. But we all knew this, didn’t we.

Among the wine writers with very small audiences, there is always the fewer number that, despite their smaller readership, choose conscientiousness and decide to deliver good, solid, reliable and truthful information to their readers. These are the folks that attend the Wine Bloggers Conference, the Wine Writers Symposium, who look to the Born Digital Wine Awards, the Wine Blog Awards and the James Beard Awards to see what kind of writing is being recognized as the best in the field. On the flip side, you have a small number of large audience wine information outlets and writers at such outlets that clearly are phoning it in. Their works are marred either by editors who don’t ask for more, an audience that does not care and a disposition that doesn’t allow them to take this particularly genre of writing and criticism seriously despite the attention they get.

For the wine loving reader seeking only to enhance their wine knowledge or find intellectual stimulation or simply entertainment within a wine-centric category, it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter how large the audience is that may also be reading the same material. It’s only a matter of whether or not they’ve found a source of solid, reliable, truthful, entertaining, educational, provocative or otherwise inspiring information. Still, the vast majority of wine info consumers gravitate toward the tried and true, the stalwart outlets that tend to generate revenue through their efforts, rather than the lesser known outlets. This must be true because search engine technology conspires to elevate the already elevated and because consumers seeking wine knowledge feel a need to grasp on to those deemed most authoritative. It’s a tough road to hoe for the lesser known scribe.

Having watch the wine information media closely now for nearly 25 years, I find myself quite optimistic about the field and the genre. Despite their being a great deal more to sift through before find the really good stuff, there is a greater amount of good stuff today. But, it’s a matter of sifting and sifting.

3 Responses

  1. harvey posert - May 16, 2013

    tom, this is all good. but what we (you and i and wineries and other pr people) need is an accurate measure or even guess of those bloggers who make a difference, if not in sales in impact. i wish someone would come up with an answer.

  2. Tom Wark - May 16, 2013

    Harvey, I’ve wanted to try to put a value on a Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits or Wine Enthusiast review or article featuring a client for many years. VERY difficult to do. However, we do at least have circulation figures of audited publications, and that of course helps. But, I do agree with you.

    • Mary Rocca - May 16, 2013

      Tom, Good question, however it depends on if you are looking at value as in a spike in sales after a feature on a winery, or if you are looking at image/ recognition. We saw a big spike in sales after being the favored Napa Cab in one of Gary Vaynerchuk’s videos, compared to having a nice feature on us in the Wine Spectator. Of course, there were other factors to be considered- such as not being ready to take advantage of the WS feature. But still, we feel that bloggers are most likely to carry more weight in the future in both sales and brand recognition. Good research question for someone to tackle!

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